By Marc Weber
Vancouver Whitecaps forward Charles Gbeke says he was misquoted. Coach Teitur Thordarson is taking the high road.
Gbeke started Saturday's second-leg USL-1 final in Montreal on the bench. When he came on in the 69th minute, it was already 6-3 for the Impact on aggregate, which was the final score.
He was quoted by French-Canadian website RueFrontenac.com as saying: "I no longer try to understand his decision. I'm the league scoring champion, I'm in my hometown and he doesn't play me."
After landing in Vancouver on Sunday, Gbeke -- who started four of six playoff games -- denied making the comments.
"I think something was lost in translation," he said. "I never said that stuff. I was sad, of course, because we lost. It was painful, especially in front of those guys [friends and family], but I wasn't mad about my role. The team comes first for me."
Gbeke is one of seven free agents on the Whitecaps' roster. The club has options on almost everyone else. Only four players have guaranteed deals for 2010 (see box).
It has been an eventful season for Gbeke, the 2008 title-game hero after coming over in a mid-season trade with Montreal.
He was handed a two-game suspension and undisclosed fine for his part in an on-field clash with teammate Wesley Charles on June 12. He won back the fans' respect with a pre-game lap of solidarity with Charles in their return game. Then he again earned their cheers with a red-hot finish that left him atop the scoring leaders with 12 goals. Thordarson said he was aware of the comments but hadn't yet talked to Gbeke.
"That doesn't bother me much because I pick out the team that is most capable to play the games, to give us a chance to win," the coach said. "I felt that we needed more speed up front with Marlon James and it was unfortunate that the penalty [defender Shaun Pejic conceding a penalty kick and getting sent off in the 29th minute] changed the game so Charles was not able to influence it.
"I can, in a way, understand that he's not happy."
Aside from 31-year-old Gbeke, big names without guaranteed deals for 2010 include free agent goalkeeper and team MVP Jay Nolly, 27, and captain Martin Nash, a 33-year-old midfielder entering his option year. Both want to return.
Club president Bob Lenarduzzi said only one-year deals will be on the table with the club jumping to North America's premier loop, Major League Soccer, in 2011.
Not just because the team wants a clean slate to select its squad in 2011; the club can't yet sign players to MLS contracts.
"We're still going through the technical side of things with MLS," Lenarduzzi said.
Thordarson will meet with all the players in the next week.
Gbeke admitted to initial feelings of resentment over how the club handled the dustup with Charles. Gbeke was made to look the worse by booting the water bottles when he left the field, but he was the one punched by Charles in the locker room, a source confirmed in June. They received equal suspensions.
"There's no hard feelings now," Gbeke said. "I grew up a Christian and I believe in forgiveness. I learned so much this year as a player and a person. How to be more patient. How to love my teammates more. Learning to sacrifice.
"For me, the most important thing is the vibe I'm going to feel from the coaches. If I'm needed here. If I'm really wanted."
We'll see soon enough.
Whitecaps players with a guaranteed year left on contract: Tyrell Burgess, midfielder, age 23; Kenold Versailles, midfielder, 25; Ansu Toure, midfielder, 28; Marlon James, forward, 32.
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